In the eyes of a perfectionist, needing to have fun to be successful sounds self-indulgent. “No pain, no gain,” they harrumph. Under this mindset, the world is all-or-nothing, results are all that matter, and the miserable journey it took for you to get this success doesn’t count. But a new book is arguing that feeling miserable while working doesn’t work.
“Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done,” by bestselling author Jon Acuff, uses studies and the experiences of famous athletes and philosophers to argue that we accomplish our goals much more easily when we enjoy the process. For example, Acuff cites his experience with creating a 30-day online challenge to help people finish goals as an experience that taught him what does and doesn’t work with goal-setting.
The 30-day challenge was observed by a University of Memphis Ph.D. candidate, Mike Peasley, who observed how the hundreds of participants interacted. Acuff and Peasley’s research concluded that “the exercises that caused people to increase their progress dramatically were those that took the pressure off, those that did away with the crippling perfectionism that cause people to quit their goals.” They found that when participants accomplished goals they thought were enjoyable, they had their chance of performance success increase by 46%.
How to enjoy hard work? Make it fun
The idea of making hard work fun begins by understanding that you have control of your life and career, and you choose to make it enjoyable or not. Self-help speaker Ron Culberson, who advises employees to “do it well, make it fun,” says that “a job is nothing more than a series of processes. If we take each process and analyze what we don’t like, there is potential to make it better.” So if meetings make you unhappy, try breaking down what part of the meeting is causing the most unhappiness, so you can see what issues to address.
In his book, Acuff advises employees who find large goals to be overwhelming to make the big goal more enjoyable by cutting it in half. Once we finish smaller goals consistently, his thinking goes, we’re more motivated to tackle bigger projects. If the work itself isn’t ever going to be fun, Acuff advises giving yourself rewards along the way to your goal that are fun.
The other piece of advice people who make their living giving advice agree on? Learn to embrace the struggle of the journey to your goals.
You’ll never ‘make it’
As advice columnist Heather Havrilesky put it, thinking that there’s going to be a day when you “make it” and you won’t have to do hard work isn’t helpful, because that puts pressure on external factors to be your source of happiness. Instead, she advises people to learn to find joy in their day-to-day challenges: “As long as you imagine that the outside world will one day deliver to you the external rewards you need to feel happy, you will always perceive your survival as exhausting and perceive your life as a long slog to nowhere. Instead, you have to savor the tiny struggles of the day,” she writes. “Savoring these things requires tuning in to your feelings, and it requires loving yourself.”
Havrilesky’s advice aligns with cognitive behavioral psychologists’ findings about the pitfalls of wanting to be perfect. Under the definition of perfectionist behavior, behavioral psychologists note that sure, an addiction to perfectionism creates high standards, but when you measure your entire worth in terms of productivity and accomplishment, you’re bound to fail because to err is human, and when you do fail, you won’t be able to move on and learn from it. Instead, you’ll be paralyzed by disappointment and you won’t be able to get work done.
So to get work done right, you’ll need to embrace the challenges you’ll face and find motivating activities and rewards in the work itself that can keep you going.